LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. – Palin Mania swept Lee’s Summit, Mo., on Monday.

Exuberant crowds greeted Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the man who heads the Republican presidential ticket – remember Sen. John McCain? – both inside and outside The Pavilion at John Knox Village.

While about 2,000 supporters awaited the ticket inside, at least that many, and probably more, stood in a light rain outside to catch a glimpse of a woman who – in 10 short days – shot from obscure governor to the biggest name in American politics.

“This is absolutely overwhelming,” Palin said as she took in the out-of-doors crowd where she fought to be heard even with a loudspeaker system. “For you to be out here, showing your support, we can’t thank you enough.”

McCain himself seemed moved by the turnout, his recent spike in the national polls and the sudden burst of energy that Palin has generated. Longtime Republicans said McCain spoke with more zip than usual, and at one point as he stood with Palin outside, he rushed his words so quickly that he practically tripped over them.

“Was that a great choice for the American people?” McCain said about his pick of a running mate. “What a great reformer. What a great governor. The most popular governor in the United States of America!”

Palin has already been good for McCain’s fundraising efforts. Of the $47 million he raised in August, $10 million came in the three days after he announced he had chosen her as his vice presidential running mate, the campaign said.

The quick visit to the key suburban city in a state that McCain admitted he has to win in November came on the wings of a recent spate of national polls showing McCain drawing even with Democrat Sen. Barack Obama and in several cases pushing past him. A Gallup Poll showed that before the national conventions, 39 percent of Republicans said they were more excited than usual about their ticket. That number, Gallup said, has now jumped to 60 percent.

The horse-race numbers were among the most promising of the campaign for the Arizona senator who has spent months pushing up against President Bush’s low ratings and a broad sense across the country that after nearly eight years of a Republican in the White House that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

On Monday, McCain was openly confident of victory, boasting several times he had the winning ticket.

But in an unusual twist, the main draw appeared to be the running mate – and one accompanied by her husband, Todd. Many moms brought daughters to the rally, some of whom were perched on shoulders to catch a glimpse of the first woman vice-presidential candidate in Republican history.

“She’s appealing to more people,” said Denise Miller of Raymore, Mo., in comparing McCain and Palin. “She’s something fresh and new that this country really needs.”

“This is history,” said Karen Turner of Lee’s Summit.

Palin had to wait exactly 41 seconds before the crowd noise inside died down enough to begin speaking, while McCain was forced to wait 23.

Her remarks were disrupted several times as the crowd chanted her name: “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.”

Palin told the crowd that McCain “is the only man in this race who’s got what it takes to lead our country.”

“Remember,” she said, “it was just about a year ago when the war in Iraq was looking really bad. And the consequences of failure would have been terrible. Defeat at the hands of al-Qaida in Iraq would have left millions to a violent fate and left their own nation much less secure.

“Some in Washington had said all was lost in the war that there was no hope for victory, and no hope for the candidate (McCain) who had said he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war.

“But the pollsters and the pundits, they forgot one thing when they wrote him off,” Palin said, her voice rising. “They forgot the caliber of the man himself, that determination … and the sheer guts of Senator John McCain.”

Palin relied on a teleprompter Monday, and she faced renewed criticism over the weekend that she wasn’t ready for the job because she won’t subject herself to interviews with reporters. Several requests from The Star were rejected in connection with her visit Monday. Palin’s first national interview will be Thursday with ABC’s Charlie Gibson in Alaska.

On Monday, she gave some of the same remarks that already have become part of the Palin lexicon, such as saying she sold the government jet in Alaska “on eBay.”

In a new line of attack, Palin and McCain criticized Obama over the nearly $1 billion he has requested in earmarks since he became a senator in Illinois.

“Just the other day, our opponent brought up earmarks. And frankly, I was surprised that he would even raise the subject at all,” Palin said. “I thought he wouldn’t want to go there.”

She also riffed once again on how she rejected earmarked funds to build the “Bridge to Nowhere,” saying if Alaska needs a bridge, it will foot the bill itself. Democrats pointed out that Palin campaigned for the bridge when she ran for governor in 2006 and wound up using bridge funds for other needs.

Democrats also said Monday that McCain himself has criticized earmarks Palin backed when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and that McCain himself has voted for billions in earmarks over the years.

Obama took exception on the campaign trail Saturday, saying, “I know the governor of Alaska has been saying she’s change, and that’s great. She’s a skillful politician. But, you know, when you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly you’re the champion anti-earmark person, that’s not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.”

When it was his turn Monday, McCain focused on energy, saying the U.S. must stop spending $700 billion a year to pay for oil and sending it to countries “that don’t like us very much.”

He emphasized the need to drill offshore now and support nuclear energy, which he described as clean and safe.

“Nuclear power,” McCain said, “has to be part of our future.”

He took a shot at Obama, saying the senator from Illinois “doesn’t want to have nuclear power, and he doesn’t’ want to drill offshore” (although Obama has said he’s open to limited offshore drilling).

McCain also criticized Obama for once boasting that he had cut defense spending. “We have found out in recent days this is an even more dangerous world than we had thought,” McCain said.

“This is not a time to slow our development of future combat systems. This is not the time.”

McCain complained that Obama was wrong about the surge strategy in Iraq, pointing out that it’s succeeded. “He was wrong about Iraq. He was wrong about Iran. He was wrong about Russia. My friends, he’s wrong for America.”

(c) 2008, The Kansas City Star.

Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.kansascity.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CAMPAIGN

AP-NY-09-08-08 2245EDT

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